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Center for Action and Contemplation
Embodied Knowing
Embodied Knowing

A Source of Vital Information

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Father Richard reminds us of the importance of listening to our body’s wisdom:

Though we begin our lives immersed in unitive, kinesthetic knowing, we learn quickly to see distinctions and divisions in the world. As a toddler, I learned: “I am not my mother. My mother is not me.” The developing ego sees by differentiation and negation—who we are not. While such an ego structure is a natural, necessary part of growing up, it always gets in the way of the soul’s holistic, nondual consciousness. My identity—intelligence, moral sense, wealth, and social class—is unfortunately gained in contrast, comparison, and competition to the person next to me. 

My still center, my True Self, does not need to oppose, differentiate, or compare itself. It just is and is content. This must be “the pearl of great price.” To the extent that our soul is alive and connected, we are satisfied with the “enoughness” of who we are and the present moment. (In our consumeristic, competitive, and increasingly online world, I fear this is becoming harder and harder to experience.) 

Living solely out of our ego splits us off from our body and our soul. Western Christianity and culture have largely surrendered to the dualistic split of body vs. soul. Christians even speak of “saving their soul” instead of also saving their body. We often repress emotions and physical sensations for the sake of efficiency and success. There are appropriate times to let our thinking mind lead instead of immediately following our body’s instincts. But we must do so with awareness and appreciation for our body, rather than pushing feelings away and moving ahead with what we have to do in the next hour. Repressing feelings and sensations relegate them to our unconscious “shadow” self. They don’t go away. They come out in unexpected and often painful ways.

We need to understand kinesthetic, bodily knowing. We must learn to recognize our physical responses—be they fear, arousal, pleasure, or pain—because they reveal additional and important information. It may take a few minutes of intentional focus to become aware of tension in our shoulders, churning in our gut, a pounding heart, or goosebumps.

Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue (1956–2008) says this well

Your mind can deceive you and put all kinds of barriers between you and your nature; but your body does not lie. Your body tells you, if you attend to it, how your life is and whether you are living from your soul or from the labyrinths of your negativity. . . . The human body is the most complex, refined, and harmonious totality. . . .

Your body is, in essence, a crowd of different members who work in harmony to make your belonging in the world possible. . . . The soul is not simply within the body, hidden somewhere within its recesses. The truth is rather the converse. Your body is in the soul, and the soul suffuses you completely. [1] 


[1] John O’Donohue, Anam Ċara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (New York: Cliff Street Books, 1997), 48, 49. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1999, 2003), 72–73, 138, 113. 

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Kazuo Ota, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Nick Moore, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Richmond, Unsplash. Jordan Whitt, Cataloochee river (detail), 2016, Cataloochee, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: There is knowledge in our muscles and bones. When our body encounters the world, a door into deeper understanding can be opened.

Story from Our Community:

Fake it ’till you make it — this piece of advice is common in AA. Even when sobriety doesn’t feel right, you should not give up as the program will make sense with time. But is not the same as simply being optimistic. It asks you to embody intention with actions.
—Moon M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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